Biography/Chronology of Walker Evans
1903 Born in ST. Louis, Missouri. His parents are well-off, puritanical; his father is an advertising director. He spends his youth in Toledo, Chicago, and New York City.
1922 Graduates from the Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. Studies literature at Williams College (one year), then takes various jobs in New York City.
1926 Lives in Paris with the intention of becoming a writer; attends literature lectures at the Sorbonne.
1927 Returns to New York. Clerk for a stockbroker firm in Wall Street (until 1929).
1928 First photographs with a small hand-held, roll-film camera.
1929 Begins friendship with Lincoln Kirstein, then still a student at Harvard University but already a key figure in the American cultural scene.
1930 First publication of three photographs (Brooklyn Bridge) in the poetry book The Bridge by Hart Crane. First photographs of nineteenth century American houses; development of the descriptive style that influences his further work. He sees photographs by Eugene Atget who has a lasting influence on him. Begins work with different cameras up to 6 l/2 x 8 1/ 2 inches, initially with glass-plate negatives.
1931 Photo series of Victorian houses in the Boston vicinity; Lincoln Kirstein initiated the project and accompanied Evans. Shared studio in Greenwich Village with other artists, including the painter and later FSA photographer Ben Shahn (through 1932).
1933 Photographic expedition to Havana during the political unrest in Cuba with the commission to provide illustrations for Carleton Beals's book The Crime of Cuba. Encounter with Ernest Hemingway. Comes to prefer use of an 8 x 10 view camera; continues to work with a 35mm camera.
1935 Photographic expedition to the Southern states. Photographs architecture from the antebellum period, especially plantation houses. First cooperation with The Museum of Modern Art, New York: photographic documentation for the exhibition "African Negro Art"; select photographs are sent out on traveling exhibitions.
1935 In June and July first fixed-term photographic campaign for the Resettlement Administration (RA) to West Virginia and Pennsylvania. From October continuing photographic work for the RA, the later Farm Security Administration (FSA), primarily in the Southern states.
1936 July/August: three-week stay with sharecropper families in Hale County, Alabama, together with James Agee. The commission is from Fortune for a text-photo article on sharecroppers. Agee had requested Evans as photographer. Evans receives a temporary leave from his FSA job under the condition that the photographs become government property. The article (lost) does not meet the magazine's expectations and is rejected. The expanded book version does not appear until:
1941: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
1937 September: end of his contract with the FSA. From now on activity as independent photographer, partially, up to the summer of 1938, for the FSA.
1938 "Walker Evans: American Photographs," exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the first exhibition in this museum devoted to the work of a single photographer. Catalog with an essay by Lincoln Kirstein. First photographs in the New York subway with a camera hidden in his coat.
1940 Ever more seldom use of a view camera; in its place a 2 1/4 twin-lens reflex camera and a 35mm camera.
1941 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is published by Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston after a long search for a publisher. The book meets with a reserved response since the sharecropper problem has been replaced by wartime themes.
1943 Articles for Time magazine (through 1944).
1945 Continuous photo and text contributions to Fortune to 1965.
1948 Exhibition (retrospective) at the Art Institute of Chicago.
1950 Photo series of the American industrial landscape seen as though from the window of a moving train.
1955 Death of his friend James Agee.
1960 New edition of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men with expanded section of photographs. The book experiences a late success in the atmosphere of the 1960 protest movements and the beginning of a cult around James Agee. Through this edition a new generation also discovers Evans's photographs.
Walker Evans is widely recognized as one of the greatest American photographers of the twentieth century, and the J. Paul Getty Museum owns one of the most comprehensive collections of his work, including more of his vintage prints than any other museum in the world. This lavishly illustrated volume brings together for the first time all of the Museum’s Walker Evans holdings.
Included here are familiar images—such as Evans’s photographs of tenant farmers and their families, made in the 1930s and later published in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men—and images that are much less familiar—such as the photographs Evans made in the 1940s of the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers circus, or his very late Polaroids, made in the 1970s. In addition, many previously unpublished Evans photographs, and variant croppings of classic images, appear here for the first time.
Author Judith Keller has written a lively, informative text that places these photographs in the larger context of Evans’s life and career and the culture—especially the popular culture—of the time. In so doing, she has produced an indispensible volume for anyone interested in the history of photography or American culture in the twentieth century.
Also included is the most comprehensive bibliography on Walker Evans published to date.